Editorial: Spencer's special place

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 3, 2011

At 40 acres, the urban forest known as Spencer Woods won’t qualify as one of the larger preservation projects spearheaded by the LandTrust for Central North Carolina. But like the 80-acre Dunn’s Mountain park project the LandTrust helped incubate a decade ago, the patch of woods in Spencer looms large in the minds of local residents who’ve enthusiastically embraced this save-the-trees effort.
Among the list of donors is Salisbury native and former hedge fund manager Julian Robertson Jr., who recently has developed worldclass resorts amid the natural splendor of New Zealand. Clearly, Robertson recognizes a special piece of ground — and a worthwhile investment — when the opportunity presents itself.
But it would be a mistake to think the project fell into place with the stroke of a pen. It almost didn’t happen, and it’s tempting to look at the chain of events and think fate had a hand in holding off the execution’s saw.
Initially, landowner Craft Development envisioned building homes on the parcel. When the economy tanked and the housing market went south, the company changed course and decided to harvest the timber to recoup part of its investment. Then, back in February 2010, bad weather delayed the planned clearcutting. That opened a window of opportunity for the Salisbury-based LandTrust, with the encouragement of many local residents, to negotiate a purchase agreement with the property owner. In April 2010, on a 4-3 vote, the Spencer town board agreed to partner with the LandTrust. While it had support from local benefactors, the LandTrust was hoping for a matching grant from the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund. Initially, that didn’t come through; then, last week, the governor’s office announced the project would receive a $200,000 grant, after all.
A celebration is in order. Rather than credit fate, however, the project’s success is due to diligent work by the LandTrust and local officials, community support and recognition that this was a rare opportunity to preserve a green oasis in an urban landscape for future generations to enjoy. The parcel off Rowan Avenue contains mature hardwoods, as well as streams and a pond. As a recent LandTrust outing revealed, it’s an inviting habitat for all sorts of small critters, including human ones — perfect for the passive park envisioned.
Robertson made his donation in honor of Fred and Alice Stanback, longtime major supporters of environmental causes locally, across the state and beyond. It’s fitting the park will bear their name, a living tribute to their commitment to preserving landscapes that strengthen our connections to the natural world. Now, a patch of woods in Spencer will stand as another of those special places.